Representing Christ

The Good Shepherd by Waiting for the World

The Good Shepherd
by Waiting for the World

 

 

 

By Jenny

I looked out the window of the bus at the dreary grey sky, as we winded down the long road from Hitler’s Tea House on the top of the mountain.  It had been another dismal workday and I was ready to crash.  I was nineteen and living alone in a mountain village in Southern Bavaria, doing an internship that I had gotten through BYU.  Up until the point that I boarded the airplane for this secluded place, I had barely left my own mountains of Utah.  I was sheltered to say the least.  Now I was the lone Mormon kid, an hour away from the nearest LDS church in Salzburg.  In my immature and naïve mind, I was also surrounded by heathens who might be contagious.  I would come to love the people I was surrounded by and lose most of my self- righteous attitude toward them, but at this point I was spending too much energy trying to keep myself unstained from the sins of the world.  That left me with little capacity for love.

This day had been a particularly hard one.  When I finally arrived at my apartment, depression seized me and I threw myself on the bed and pulled the covers over my head.  I was ready to give up.  I lay there crying and praying.  In my loneliness that summer, God had become my  one constant companion.  I knew that if I got up and ran in the hills behind my apartment I  would feel better, but I couldn’t pull myself out of my bed.  I lay there in misery until I saw  something curious on my back door.  I got out of bed to see what it was and found that it was a note from the Sister Missionaries.

Liebe Jenny, We had a crazy desire to visit you today—unfortunately the budget didn’t take us to the top of the mountain. Na, ja—we picked the second best thing and hiked up here to your house.  Above all, we have been thinking about you—it’s tough being the only Mormon kid in a foreign country but buck up trooper—we know your example will have many lasting effects—the Lord even gives us pep talks when we need them, here’s Sister Nuttall and I’s favorite. D&C 6:34-37. The Lord knows each one of us very personally—even those of us wandering around Salzburg or sitting atop a mountain in Germany!  The Lord is also most pleased in how strong you are growing in this experience—spiritual muscles!  We are sorry that we didn’t plan this adventure to Berchtesgaden well enough—don’t worry, we will get together another time. Wir haben Sie Lieb Schwester Jensen and Schwester Nuttalls

 

That note was everything to me at that moment, and it got me out of bed.  I put on my running shoes and ran through the lush forested hills.  I wondered why the missionaries would take so much time and energy to travel an hour by train and then hike all the way up to my apartment just to leave me a note.  They could have been searching for converts, but they spent the greater part of their day just to make my day better.  That day was not a successful one for them by any outward appearance.  They didn’t find a golden contact, they didn’t convert anyone to the gospel, they didn’t even get to see the one person they spent their day travelling to see.  As a missionary it could have been considered a wasted day.  But their efforts meant everything to me, one lonely nineteen-year-old girl far from the comfort of her tribe.  That day, my missionaries chose to represent Christ.

That was the loneliest time of my life because I was in an unfamiliar culture with people who weren’t like me.  I have felt a similar loneliness over the last few years.  This time I am not alone in a foreign country where I struggle to use the language to express myself.  I am not different from everyone around me because I grew up with different beliefs and values than they did.  This time I am in the culture of my birth.  I should fit in.  But after a life-changing faith transition and feminist awakening, I am different.  I believe differently.  I speak differently and I do struggle to find a common language with which I can fully express myself.  Now I am the heathen whom others are struggling to be around for fear that what I have is contagious.  In the very culture of my birth I don’t fit in.  I am different.

So naturally I am thinking about those missionaries so many years ago and the effort they made to help me feel like I was okay in a culture that I didn’t belong to.  And I am thinking about the ideal we set in the church for every member to be a missionary.  What does that mean?  The typical Sunday School answers are to pray for missionary experiences, give Book of Mormons away, and talk to our friends and neighbors about the church.  But my wise sister missionaries knew that it wasn’t just about getting converts.  What good does it do us to convert people to our church if our church is not a place for many people with differing beliefs and levels of orthodoxy to feel welcome.  If our church is not a church of love and inclusion, then converts will profit us nothing.

We worry about our image, we worry about our numbers, we worry about our rules.  We don’t want to get too close because what that person has looks like apostasy.  We bear our testimonies in an attempt to convert them back to our way of thinking and believing.  We live in a cold and delusional world of Sunday school answers.  It’s time to shed our rules, shed our agendas, and shed the self righteousness that makes us believe that we have all the right answers for everyone.   If we truly want to be representatives of Christ in our member missionary work, then it’s time for us to climb the mountains to find the one.  To find the one who is lonely and feels out of place.  To find the one who is giving up on the church because the church has given up on her.  To find the one who needs to know that she is loved no matter what she believes or how she lives her life.  We can spend our energy worrying about apostasy and trying to keep ourselves unstained from the sins of the world.  Or we can give ourselves fully to loving the way Christ did.

 

Read More

I Hope You Stay

It’s not very politically correct these days in the feminist or progressive Mormon community to make a plea like this. We’re expected to honor every woman in the place she stands, to wish her well wherever she goes. And I do. I also want to be able to say what’s in my heart and on my mind.

Political correctness has never been my strong suit. And I’m not sure how to say this except in very simple words. I could say I’m asking out of love, but that may not be entirely true. Except that I love this church. With all its sexist, puritanical, hierarchical insanity, I love it. And I love you too. People like you are making Mormonism better, so even if it’s selfish of me to expect you to listen, I’m going to come out and say it anyway:

I hope you stay.crazyquiltjanicevaine

 

Please stay.

Please don’t go.

Can I help you?

How can I help you?

What can I do to help you stay?

If you’re thinking of leaving Mormonism, please reconsider.

Maybe none of this matters to you anymore. Maybe you’ve reached the breaking point or your therapist has advised you to go. Maybe your wounded heart or your guardian angels are leading you away for your own good. And what can I say to that?

Read More

The Goodness in Others; the Goodness in Me

Suzette and EliTwo years ago this month I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer – and started on a dark journey of hospitals, needles, chemotherapy, nausea, and pain.  I have been reflecting on this time as I pass the anniversary. The thing that stands out the most is how much goodness I saw in others as I struggled through.  It was remarkable to me at the time and continues to be a source of inspiration.

The people I knew well (close friends and family) banded together to form a shelter, so that I rarely worried about my next meal, a ride to the hospital, being alone, or even doing laundry.  My people were beyond generous with their time and resources – and I feel grateful for that every day.

But even outside of my own clan, goodness came to me from all kinds of strangers.  Because I was bald and walking slowly, most people could tell that I was going through some sort of treatment.  I noticed that people smiled at me more and this seemed a sign of solidarity against the great enemy of humankind:  cancer.  Many people approached me to wish me well and give me their prayers.  Waiters and store clerks often discounted items; others (strangers to me) picked up my tab.  Women let me go ahead of them in bathroom lines, teenagers carried my bags, and taxi drivers dismissed charges.  It was astonishing – and wonderful.  I can only imagine that they did these things because they saw “one among them” who was obviously struggling and going through a difficult time.  It was heartening.  I will forever believe in the goodness of humankind because of this experience.

Read More

Meet Me at the Tree

5874469701_ce20331570_b

Tree of Life by Lukey

 

 

I pressed forward in line heading for the sacred grounds of the temple while angry anti-Mormon protesters shouted hateful words, and church members fresh out of the Saturday afternoon session of conference honked and shouted hateful things.  It was like something out of a dream.  In fact, it felt much like a dream I had spent my whole youth learning about, never fully understanding.

I used to understand Lehi’s dream of the tree of life to be about the church vs. the world.  We as members of the church hold onto the word of God and press forward toward the tree of life and its delicious fruit, the love of God, while people outside the church mock us from the great and spacious building.  Never did I think that as I pressed forward, holding onto what I feel very strongly is the word of God, that I would be mocked by members of my own church.  Like Lehi, I have tasted a fruit “most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted.”  It is a fruit that represents our Heavenly Parent’s love for all their children, and their desire for us to truly be equal.  But when I turned back to tell others about this fruit, they did not want to join me in partaking of it.  Some, instead of coming to the tree with me have mocked and ridiculed me for doing so.  This pointing fingers and derisive mocking has become intolerable over the last few months.

As a member of Ordain Women I can’t say that I have always remained at the tree of life either during this journey.  I came to Ordain Women because of some powerful spiritual experiences that left me with a greater capacity to love and to understand God’s love.  But, just like the people in Lehi’s dream, I have had moments when I cast my eyes about and wandered away from that love to a great and spacious building where I didn’t intend to understand the person I was contending with. We are all prone to have moments when we are partaking of the love of God and other moments when we are the ones in the great and spacious building, mocking others who are partaking of the love of God in their way.  It’s not black and white.  It’s not church members vs. the world.  As a church, we do not hold a monopoly on the tree of life and we are not immune from the great and spacious building.

The thing I find most tragic is those who wander the pathways lost and alone, all because the mocking of others caused them to doubt that the fruit they were tasting was really good.  Instead of judging others and causing them to second-guess and lose their way, I think we need to carefully consider at all times, where we are on the spectrum of Lehi’s dream.  Are we partaking of the love of God, or are we being critical of someone we disagree with because we can’t see things from her perspective?  As a member of Ordain Women, I have experienced a lot of loss and pain from those who chose to remain above me and criticize, mock, shun, call me to repentance and judge me from a place where they couldn’t see or understand my heart.  But I have also been blessed with friends and family who have met me at the tree of life and said, I don’t fully understand, but I love you and I am trying to understand.  It is the love and support from these friends that keeps me rooted at the tree of life instead of falling away into dark paths or joining the critics in the great and spacious building with negativity and angry words.

The reason the great and spacious building is up in the air, far from the tree of life, is that misunderstanding is easier to achieve from a distance.  It is easy to criticize and point fingers when we can’t even see the fruit that someone is tasting.  That’s when it is time to come down and share in God’s love with those we don’t understand.  Nephi was told by the angel that the tree of life represented the condescension of God.  Christ came down among us.  He descended below everything and experienced everything so that he could understand us perfectly and love us perfectly.  He had to come to where we are at and experience what we experience before he could gain that perfect love.  That is the condescension of God and that is the love represented by the tree of life.  If we follow his example, then we must also come down from our floating buildings that make us think we are above others.  We have to come down to a level where we can fully understand others, just as Christ did.  I don’t think this means that we all have to agree on everything.  But we do have to do our best to fully understand each other without judgment.  We have to let go of our need to be right or to be better, in order to love.

So to my fellow Mormon feminists who have tasted of the same precious fruit I have, I know that the last few months have been rough.  I don’t know about you, but it has been hard for me to remain at the tree.  I have found myself wandering up to the great and spacious building or becoming lost in the dark paths.  Let’s meet back at the tree and partake of that great love that once consumed us.  And to my fellow Mormon sisters and brothers, please meet us there.  Even if we disagree, it’s better to do so together at the tree of life. I still have a great desire to share with other members of the church, the precious fruit of divine love that I have found in the concept of female ordination and in agitating for it through Ordain Women.  At the very least, I hope we can stand together at the tree of life and share in the fruits of love, instead of pointing fingers from a place where understanding isn’t possible.  In choosing to meet at the tree of life, we are choosing to love, even if we disagree.

Read More

Created in Their Image

Soon after graduating from BYU and leaving Utah, I left for a study abroad in Denmark, hence my prolonged absence from the comment section (I took Danish for two years at BYU and since being in Denmark, my Danish has become–– according to the locals–– better than the majority of missionaries there and those who’ve lived in the country for several years, almost equivalent to a native speaker, American accent notwithstanding). So far, I’ve been here for three weeks and I’ll be here for close to another four weeks. It is the most magical land and I am close to burning my American passport and living secretly in what is now my favorite country.

During the study abroad, our group has also organized trips to other countries, including Sweden and Germany. And just recently, I returned from a trip in Oslo, Norway. Oslo is a modern city and home to the friendliest people. Oslo is also home to Frogner Park that houses the Vigeland Installation by Gustav Vigeland. The sculptures there are magnificence and worth a trip out to Frogner. Not only for their aesthetic and unique nature of the statues (they are all nude), but for the thoughts and intellectual stimulation they provoke.

IMG_1739

Each of the sculptures in the Vigeland Installation were nude and anatomically correct and full figured. As members of the LDS Church, we are programmed to treat nudity and nakedness as “other”, taboo, or strange. In other words, unacceptable. So to be confronted with this public display of artistic nudity instilled in me the question of vulnerability. It made me question why we as Latter-day Saints afraid of the naked human form. I saw nothing offensive. Is it because of the vulnerability and insecurity it rouses in us? As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, nudity does sometimes leave me feeling vulnerable and insecure. So it was refreshing and challenging to have the park confront me with what is naturally uncomfortable and taboo for most others, and sometimes myself. We believe that our bodies are holy temples, created in the image of the most power Being in the universe. How did we go to being uncomfortable with it?

image

My body was, indeed, created in the image of my Heavenly Parents, so it’s sad that sometimes myself and others feel uncomfortable with it. I am learning to be empowered by my body–– something I once believe was disgusting and broken because of the abuse in my past. I am trying to love all my imperfections and curves and embrace normal sexuality. But lessons in church teach us that we must control our bodies in every form and function. We must cover up. We must be modest. We must not express the fulness of our sexuality. We are merely aesthetically pleasing objects. In the same breath, we teach that our bodies must be hidden and are shameful while simultaneously saying that our bodies are holy and to be embraced.

It is confusing and unhealthy.

Our bodies are modeled after Gods. And we are ashamed of that?

We are created in Their image.

Embrace it. Love it.

Read More

Comfort Box: The 72 Hour Kit that will save you from becoming a zombie.

 

readyforzombies

Am I prepared? Anytime I am watching a zombie apocalypse roll forth on television I question if my emergency preparedness supplies are sufficient. Would I survive or become a zombie? The ward emergency preparedness guy hides from me the week after an especially violent episode of The Walking Dead. To be fair, he has already helpfully referred me to the CDC guide to surviving zombies.

I don’t have any life experience in surviving disasters of the natural or zombie variety, but another kind of disaster rolls through my life routinely. Emotional earthquakes, fire, tsunami, tornado, or sometimes (on a slow news day) a muddy puddle are enough to knock me out. I am regularly afflicted with unwanted feelings of depression, anger, loneliness, betrayal, sadness, boredom, jealousy, or confusion.  Some days I have no idea what I am feeling. I only know that bad stuff happens and keeps happening. Too often the tornado sets me down in my own emotional zombie apocalypse.

When faced with emotional disaster, my first response is to become a zombie. I was raised in a home without healthy models of how to express and positively cope with challenging emotions. My inclination is to eat my feelings while numbing out on a binge read or a mindless Facebook game. As I compare my response to family traditions of alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, or child abuse; being an emotional zombie doesn’t seem so bad. Unfortunately, the zombie life fails to bring me lasting relief and harms my health through impaired sleep and weight gain. The unwanted feelings remain and eventually demand attention. These are the times when I turn to my emotional 72 Hour Kit: The Comfort Box.

How prepared are you for the next emotional tsunami? Will you become a zombie? Read on to learn how you can get your very own Comfort Box!

Read More